Are you enthusiastic about science communication? Have you been trying to get your foot in the door or build a reputation as a science writer? Are you, however, not sure how to write articles that would get you noticed?
Here are some principles I follow while writing science articles. I hope you find them useful as well.
1. Know your audience: Science and medical writing cover multiple market fields such as research, journalism, and pharmaceutical and health information. This may sound obvious, but it is worth reiterating that your writing needs to be targeted to the audience and subject area. The language you use to describe the mechanism of action of a new anticancer drug to a physician would be different from what you use to explain how it works to your grandma (unless your grandma is a physician, in which case, go grandma)!
2. Have a catchy opening sentence: In the digitized age, people have surprisingly short attention spans. Instead of a generalized impact statement in the beginning, write a first sentence that captures the reader’s attention.
3. Tell a story about real people: Let’s say you want to create awareness about a disease. Scientists often try to emphasize the relevance of their research topic by providing statistics. Numbers are important, but when writing for a general audience, what is equally – if not, more – important is to show that the issue you are discussing affects individuals just like the reader – people they can relate to. What better way to make this case than to tell a story about real people? For instance, if you are writing about a disease like fibromyalgia, give an example or a case study to demonstrate its impact and how the chronic pain caused by it hinders even routine activities in their lives that we take for granted.
4. Keep it simple: The demands of science writing are different from conventional academic writing (for journals, grants etc.) in a few ways. Often, most of the audience are not experts on the subject, and hence, the writer should be prepared to explain complex scientific terms and provide accurate definitions so that the reader can understand the content easily. At the same time, the writer should also be careful not to be overly descriptive. Concisely summarizing large bodies of information is a skill you develop over time, but one that will serve you well throughout your writing career.
5. Be active: Avoid passive voice, unnecessary jargon, and convoluted sentences. When I started as an undergraduate researcher, like many others, I believed it commanded authority and that if I wrote in the passive voice, my writing would be respected more. The truth is, passive voice often just makes your writing seem distant and impersonal. Currently, several reputed journals and organizations recommend the use of active voice over passive in science and medical writing. (However, there are instances when the use of passive voice is acceptable, or even preferable.)
6. Fact check: Last but not the least, do your homework and ensure that the information you convey is authentic and scientifically accurate. Especially if you are creating medical content about disease states or effects of drugs and treatments, keep in mind that your audience is likely to use that information to make crucial decisions about their health.
Remember that not all of these are hard and fast rules, and writers have individual styles and preferences. However, these could serve as useful guidelines to improve your writing. What do you think of them? Do you have additional tips you would like to share? Leave a comment below!